What are the different types of iron?
Iron comes in two forms – haem iron, which is found in animal sources (e.g. meat and fish) and non-haem iron, which comes from plant-based sources, such as lentils, beans, vegetables and cereals. Haem iron is more easily absorbed by the body and in a different way in comparison to non-haem iron.
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What benefits does iron offer?
Iron is a mineral that’s vital to many bodily functions, including energy, focus, digestion, the immune system and the regulation of body temperature. It is also essential in the production of haemoglobin, a protein that’s needed to transport oxygen in the blood.
Mostly, the benefits of iron go unnoticed until a person becomes iron deficient or, in extreme cases, anaemic. Tell-tale symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Pale skin
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
- Headache, dizziness or light-headedness
- Cold hands and feet
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
- Brittle nails
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
- Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anaemia
What is the RDI for iron?
The average person needs to absorb a small amount of iron per day to maintain their health (approx. 1mg for adults and 1.5 for menstruating females). However, this is highly variable determined on different age groups and life stages. For example, pregnant women may require up to 4-5 mg daily.
10 best vegetarian iron sources
Tofu is made of fermented soybean curd and comes in many different varieties such as silken, firm or soft. It is popular in Asian dishes, as it can be marinated to suit other flavours you are cooking with. Tofu contains 3-3.6 mg of iron per 168 gram serving size (approx. 20 per cent of the RDI).
Try this: Chilli tofu noodles
Lentils are mini-legumes that have been used in cooking for centuries throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. They are most often used in dishes such as stews and curries and come in many types, each with their own nutritional benefits and flavour profiles.
As well as containing a significant amount of protein and fibre, lentils contain 6.6 mg of iron per cup, or 37 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Spicy roast veg & lentils
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are round, nutty beans that are part of the legume family. They are incredibly versatile and can be mashed, roasted or eaten fresh in salads, soups and stir-fries.
Chickpeas are high in fibre and complex carbs and provide around 4.6–5.2 mg of iron per cup, or 26–29 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Curried chickpeas
Quinoa is a seed that comes from the amaranth family. It is gluten-free and has a subtle, sweet flavour and chewy texture that makes it a great substitute for rice and other grains.
Each cup of quinoa offers around 2.8 mg of iron, or 16 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Quinoa, coconut and nut bars
6. Pumpkin seeds
Also known as ‘pepitas,’ pumpkin seeds are the edible seeds of the pumpkin or squash. They are typically flat, with a white outer husk that becomes crunchy when cooked. While they can be eaten raw as a snack, pumpkin seeds have a nutty, sweet flavour that intensifies when roasted.
Cashews are seeds harvested from cashew apples, which is the fruit produced by cashew trees. Cashews have a strong nutty taste, and can be eaten as is, added to curries and stir-fries or blended to make nut butter, cashew milk or cashew cream.
Cashews are full of protein, fibre, good fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as loaded with iron. They contain around 1–1.6 mg of iron per 28 gram serving, or around 6–9 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Watercress soup with cashew cream
Spinach is a leafy green that’s commonly considered a ‘superfood’ thanks to the fact that it’s loaded with vitamins and minerals and contains very few calories. Spinach is commonly used in salads, dips (such as pesto), stir-fried or added to pasta.
Try this: Baked tortellini with spinach and chilli
Potatoes are starchy root vegetables that are most often fried into chips, boiled, mashed or roasted.
They are high in fibre and vitamin C and contain significant amounts of iron, that’s mostly concentrated in their skins. In fact, one large, unpeeled potato (approx. 295 grams) provides 3.2 mg of iron, which is 18 per cent of the RDI. Sweet potatoes contain slightly less — around 2.1 mg or 12 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Sweet potato and asparagus frittata
Mushrooms come from the fungi kingdom and have a unique, savoury umami flavour and meaty texture.
Mushrooms can be eaten raw or roasted, fried or sautéed. Certain varieties of are richer in iron than others, for example one cooked cup of white mushrooms contains around 2.7 mg, or 15 per cent of the RDI.
Try this: Mushroom risotto
Olives are small fruits that come from olive trees. They are very rich and salty to taste and can be eaten on their own as a snack or added to many Mediterranean dishes.
Olives are a great source of fibre, good fats and fat-soluble vitamins. They contain around 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams, or 18 per cent of the RDI.
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